Hepatitis C drugs from Merck & Co and Vertex, plus Bristol-Myers Squibb's melanoma drug Yervoy have carried off the top prizes at the Prix Galien USA awards.

The best biotechnology product was bestowed on Yervoy (ipilimumab) by a committee that includes several Nobel Laureates. The drug was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in March 2011 and has become a major earner for B-MS - second-quarter sales of Yervoy soared 71% to $162 million.

Elliott Sigal, head of R&D at B-MS, noted that immuno-oncology "represents a new paradigm in the treatment of cancer and this requires a willingness to think differently about the discovery, development and commercialisation of these novel agents". He added that "Yervoy is an important representation of the progress we have made in this innovative field".

Merck’s Victrelis (boceprevir) and Vertex’s Incivek (telaprevir) shared the award for best pharmaceutical agent. Both of the protease inhibitors also took the top prize at the UK Prix Galien Awards in September; in the UK, Incivek is marketed by Johnson & Johnson as Incivo.

Edwards Lifesciences and Medtronic valve products shared the award for best medical technology. The Prix Galien, considered by many as the highest accolade for pharmaceutical R&D, was first established in France in 1970  by pharmacist Roland Mehl and was inaugurated in the USA in 2007.